The Mythical Mother Month

Clarence wants a baby. Clarence reasons that a baby requires nine months of effort, so rather than one woman spending nine months, he could have nine women spending one month. Since Clarence doesn’t want to wait nine months for his wife to give birth, he gathers eight other women into a room and tells them to “distribute the load.”

Instead of a baby, Clarence receives eight face-slaps and one divorce.

The Mythical Mother Month is my renaming of a software concept (the “Mythical Man-Month”), which states adding more labor to go faster doesn’t work because it’s challenging to partition complex projects. For instance, it’s easy to partition bricklaying. A wall-building project that requires one mason for one year could finish in one month with 12 masons.  But a year-long software project with one engineer isn’t solvable in one month with 12 engineers.

Most creative work (scientific research, novel writing, childbirth) isn’t partitionable. Complex projects require heavy communication, which exponentially scales with each person added. Adding people to a complex project will likely increase the time for getting it done.

Throwing bodies at a complex project makes it take longer. Cut scope instead.